Every day for the past nine months felt exactly the same.
Eddie would wake up from a night of little to no sleep, and venture out into the sand that was caked in his friends’ blood. Sometimes they’d come across enemy territory and hash out a fight for hours on end. Other times they just walked and walked past the endless destruction and decay.
The only thing keeping him going at this point was knowing that his deployment was nearly over. In about a month’s time, he’d be right back to where he was meant to be. During the few hours he actually got to rest, Eddie dreamed about home.
His brain flooded with images of him sandwiched between his husband and son. Or him helping his son make a volcano for a school science project. Or him hugging his husband from behind while the aroma of whatever he was cooking for dinner tangled around their heads. Images of him fitting perfectly back into the puzzle his family spent years hand crafting.
All of these dreams would soon be a reality, all he needed to do, was hold on.
At the risk of sounding like a child describing their school day, Eddie had to admit that his favorite part of deployment was when he got to go home.
It was the same thing every time. Try to get some sleep on the excruciatingly long flight. Trudge through LAX, one of the worst airports ever in Eddie’s opinion. Hunt down your luggage. Scout out something quick to eat. Find a cab. Go home.
Eddie guessed that he found solace in the consistency of it all. After all the unknown aspects of war thrown at him, he found an odd comfort in the crowded gates of the airport. He’d always see at least one family running to catch their flight, someone doing yoga, and several screaming babies. There were also those few people who would even stop him to thank him for his service, a thing that would always catch him off guard, yet warm his heart.
As he waited at the luggage turnstyle, a realization dawned on the soldier. This homecoming wasn’t like all the rest of them. No, this one was different.
You see, this time Eddie would be home for good . He had served his mandatory time and was officially eligible to retire from the military. So this time was different. Because there was no looming dread of having to give his life up for another six or nine months in the desert. He wouldn’t have to hug his family extra hard because of the impending threat of being deployed sooner than expected. He wouldn’t have to face the pain of being ripped out of his family unit again.
This time Eddie was home and feeling nothing but happiness. Nothing could wipe the dopey grin of his face tonight.
Once he got his bags, Eddie made a beeline for the nearest Starbucks.
After being involved in a helicopter crash while overseas, Eddie grew to hate flying. Which is not a fun trait to have when the trip back home consists of a flight that is over 10 hours long. 10, long, panic-induced, awake , hours.
So that’s how he found himself ordering a caramel macchiato at eight o’clock at night. Normally he’d order just a black coffee, but on his last call home, Buck had raved about the sugary drink for a good five minutes. And let’s be honest, Eddie wasn’t ordering this drink because he was curious about the flavor , no, he was just missing his husband.
Eddie was waiting for his order when he finally decided to fish his phone out of his pocket. He figured he’d call Maddie, his husband’s sister, to see where Buck was tonight. He wanted to surprise him since the last time they spoke Eddie was supposed to be home a week later.
The phone rang. And rang. And rang… No answer. He would have thought it odd if his brain wasn’t currently clouded with extreme jet lag. He’d try again in a few minutes.
A few moments had passed and Eddie had managed to get his drink and make his way to the front of the airport. He was just about to order an uber when his phone buzzed in his hand, Maddie’s contact flashing across the screen.
“Hey Mads,” he answered, the smile from earlier making a reappearance.
“Hey Eddie, I… I didn’t expect to hear from you today. Is everything okay?” she said, voice wrung heavily with worry.
“Everything’s great actually, I, uh, I’m at the airport right now… I’m home a week early. That’s actually why I called. I wanted to surprise Buck but I wasn’t sure if he was at home or at the sta-” his voice was cut off by a garbled cry on the other line.
“Is everything okay with you ?” he asked softly, his tone more confused than anything else.
“I’m fine… It’s- It’s Buck”
“What happened? Is he okay? Is Chris okay?” the questions coming out faster than his brain could comprehend.
“Chris is okay, he’s with Carla right now. Eddie … it’s Buck. There… there was an accident and he got hurt,” Maddie managed out.
She sounded exhausted, her voice lacking the ever bubbling Buckley charm that so many loved. Something about all of this left Eddie with butterflies- although in this case, it felt more like moths- in his stomach. He didn’t like where this conversation was headed.
“He’s okay though right?” he asked, trying his hand at the optimism his husband always supplied. “I mean, he’s always getting himself into trouble…” he tried with a dry laugh.
“Eddie, it’s bad this time. Someone… God, I didn’t think I’d have to tell you this tonight…” Maddie began. “Someone planted a bomb in one of their fire trucks, and when it went off it- it collapsed onto one of Buck’s legs… They just took him into surgery.”
And just like that his world stopped. Everything moved in slow-motion around him. The macchiato in his hand, crashed to the floor, splashing up at his ankles. The smile on his face was abandoned along with his excitement for the night ahead of him. The hustle of the airport around him faded into a hum, his brain refusing to register anything other than the words bomb and surgery.
After a few seconds of silence he muttered into the phone, “Where is he?”
“We’re at Cedars-Sinai… Eddie, his whole team is here. I know you guys-”
“I don’t care. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he replied before hanging up.
Eddie and Buck had been married for what felt like an eternity. It’s always been them, and their son Christopher of course, against the world. They’ve faced obstacle after obstacle, and always ended up stronger on the other side. However, they always did it together. If one had to climb the ladder, they were sure the other would be there to hold it steady.
This is why Buck hadn’t expressed the details of his relationship to those he worked with yet. It was difficult to maneuver the endless questions and pitying glances by yourself. Being a military spouse was no easy feat. So they agreed that when Eddie finally returned home for good, they’d make an official appearance as a couple at the station one day. That way the two families could properly meet and blend.
This wasn’t what they agreed on, but Eddie would be damned if he wasn’t there when Buck got out of surgery. This was a storm that they would weather together.
The ride from the airport to the hospital was roughly 20 minutes, which by Los Angeles standards, is extremely quick. However, with every nervous bounce of Eddie’s leg in the backseat of his uber, it felt like another year had passed by.
Eddie never liked being the nervous one. He was always the rock. The shoulder to lean on. The sturdy anchor. Yet, in this moment, he felt like his house of cards was one blow from caving in. He felt as though someone took his stone exterior and shattered it with a hammer.
As they neared the hospital entrance, he swept up the remains of his strong facade the best he could. He needed to not only be strong for both Maddie and Buck, but he was also about to make probably some of the most important first impressions of their relationship.
His feet moved without him thinking, and before he knew it, he was standing in the middle of the hospital’s waiting room. His eyes began to scan the sea of chairs in front of him. Seat after seat of ailing soon-to-be-patients and anxious family members. The overwhelming sounds emerging from the emergency room were about to engulf Eddie when a voice called out to him.
“Eddie!” Maddie called out to him from where she was sitting, however she was currently alone.
“Maddie,” he started, feeling just an ounce of relief at the sight of a familiar face.
Eddie went to say something else, but was instead brought into a strong-armed hug by the brunette woman. That was the thing about the Buckley siblings. They were huggers. Eddie himself was never big on the form of affection, but something about a Buckley hug hit differently. It’s like they were laced with something that made you want to cry your eyes out and spill your darkest secrets, yet at the same time, never let go.
Eddie didn’t even realize he had been crying until he pulled away from Maddie and air went cold on his wet cheek. The woman in front of him met his gaze with a mirrored red-eyed, misty look.
“He’s still in surgery,” she began. “He’ll be okay though. He always is,” a slightly forced smile upturning the corners of her mouth as she spoke.
Eddie nodded in return, his lips pursing the way they always do when he got overly upset. He was just tired, and confused, and sad, and angry, and everything else all at once. That stone-cold facade he always wore was crumbling once again.
Maddie could read the emotion in his eyes from a mile away. “Hey, hey, hey. C’mon, why don’t you sit down and you can tell me about what’s going on in that brain of yours.”
Eddie sat down, mind going a million miles a minute while tears pricked in his eyes. Only after a few moments did he dare to try to speak. “I just- I feel angry and… and guilty?”
Maddie looked at him with an earnest concern stitched into her brow, silently urging him to continue.
“I’m the one who should be in there,” he confessed.
Maddie leaned a bit closer to the soldier, her eyes growing wide, “What on earth makes you say that?”
“I’m the one who signed up for this! I signed up for the guns, and the explosions, and the bombs . Not him. Yet which one of us is in surgery right now because they got blown up while on the job? It’s… it’s not fair .”
“I know…” Maddie offered, resting a hand on his shoulder in an effort to comfort him.
“He doesn’t deserve this,” Eddie mumbled, dejectedly putting his elbows on his knees. “He doesn’t deserve any of this. He’s such a good person. … What sort of person would do this?”
“If it makes you feel any better… they arrested the person who did it.”
“A little bit,” Eddie replied, meeting Maddie’s half smile with one of his own.
“Good,” she said. “And listen Eddie, it does no good to dwell on guilt or fairness, okay? Buck needs you. You’re his person. And it’s not going to be easy, but… I don’t think you guys have ever really been about what’s easy .”
That earned a chuckle from Eddie, the impending weight of the universe surrounding him lessened with just a few of her words. … The Buckley charm coming back in full effect.
“Thank you, Maddie,” Eddie said, the first genuine smile reaching his face since he stood at the airport Starbucks, what felt like centuries ago.
“What are sisters for?” she shot back with a wink.
A few moments slipped by, as they sat in silence only admiring each other’s company, when Eddie realized something. The two of them sat adjacent to a few chairs claimed by jackets and bags strewn over them.
“Where’s, um, Buck’s team?” He asked, eyes shifting towards the empty group of chairs.
“Oh, right! Hen and Bobby are on the phone with their families, and Chimney is on a coffee run,” Maddie remembered, pulling out her phone as another thought comes to her. “Which reminds me, I’ll text him to get an extra cup because you look like hell and need some caffeine… no offence.”
“None taken,” Eddie chortled, reminiscing about his destroyed caramel macchiato as he stared at the dried whip cream that found its way into his shoelaces.
“They should be back in a few minutes,” Maddie said, offering a squeeze of reassurance to his leg.
He could do this, Eddie thought to himself.
The minutes trickled by like molasses, Eddie’s mind unable to do anything but worry about the man behind the operating room doors. At least that’s what it was doing until a man approached him and Maddie, trying to artfully balance five cups of coffee in his hands.
“Alright, here is your vanilla latte,” the man said, handing a cup to the woman beside him before extending another her way. “And your black coffee? … Maddie, why’d you make me get this? You don’t like black coffee.”
“It’s not for me , it’s for him,” Maddie said, tilting her head towards Eddie.
The man turned towards him with a quirked brow, “I’m sorry… who are you?”
Eddie straightened in his chair, “Oh,um, I’m Eddie Diaz… Maddie’s brother-in-law.” He mentally slapped himself for that introduction. Brother-in-law?
The man stared at him and Maddie with a confused expression, “...Wait.” And then his eyes practically popped out his skull as a lightbulb turned on in his brain. “ Oh! So you’re… I mean you and Buck are…”
Eddie could tell he was having trouble formulating his thoughts into words so he helped him out, “Married? Yes. For a few years actually.”
“No way!” He smiled before mumbling to himself, “I can’t believe Hen won the bet.”
As if he suddenly remembered where he was, the man shook himself from his thoughts before turning back to Eddie. “I’m Chimney by the way. Oh! And this is yours,” he said, handing the cup of coffee to Eddie. “Sorry ‘bout that. … Hen’s gonna flip about this.”
“Hen’s gonna flip about what?” came a voice from a woman approaching the group.
“Chim, did you mess up her order… again ,” the older man accompanying the woman said.
“No! Hen, your chai latte. And for Cap, your cap puccino…” Chim said, passing out the remaining cups and pausing for a laugh. “No? No one? Alright… tough crowd .”
“ Anyways ,” Chim started again. “You’re gonna flip because you won the bet Henrietta.”
“Which one?” Bobby and Hen asked simultaneously.
That prompted a laugh from Eddie. He then leaned closer to Maddie before whispering, “Are they always like this?”
“ Yes ,” she said with feigned annoyance. “You’ll grow to love them though.”
Before Chim could break the news, Eddie cleared his throat to get their attention. “Sorry to interrupt, but I figured since this is kind of about me, I should introduce myself. I’m Eddie… Buck’s husband . So… whatever bet that is.”
Hen and Bobby swapped surprised looks, before Hen offered him a hand to shake. “Well, I’m Hen… or should I say, I’m twenty dollars richer ,” she said with a smirk.
Bobby shook his hand next, “Captain Bobby Nash. And let me tell you, Buck’s one of my best guys. He’ll be fine.” Eddie would be lying if he said that last part didn’t ease the tension in his shoulders ever so slightly.
“I can’t believe I bet that he only had a girlfriend,” Chim wondered out loud.
Bobby sent a glance his way before saying with a laugh, “At least you didn’t bet that since he wasn’t flirting with anyone, it meant that he had a kid at home.”
“Well,” Eddie started, gaining curious glances from the firefighters in front of him. “We do actually have a son… Christopher, he’s ten.”
The trio in front of him stared with their mouths agape. Bobby finally turned to the two to his right, “Money on my desk, by the end of the week.”
Chim looked border-line offended, “Maddie, why didn’t you tell me? I’m down like 40 bucks right now!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were betting on my little brother’s home life,” she commented. “And secondly, you should know that that’s not my business to tell.”
Chimney sighed as he took his seat, “You’re right… I’m sorry.” His eyes grew comically wide for the third time that night, “And I feel extra sorry now, because I just noticed your army fatigues! Thank you for your service, man. Did you just get back?”
“Yeah, just got back from nine months in Afghanistan,” Eddie answered. “I actually got here a week earlier than planned, so I wanted to surprise Buck but… I guess he had other plans.”
As the two other first-responders sat down, Hen extended a hand towards Eddie’s knee, “I’m sorry. You’ll get to see him soon enough.”
“That kid’s tough. He can handle it,” Bobby added, sending him a sympathetic look.
“I just wish he didn’t have to,” Eddie muttered, earning a supportive hand on his back from Maddie.
Silence reigned for a few brief moments before Hen made an effort to get them back to happier thoughts, “Well if we’re going to be here for a while… I’d really like some pictures. Wedding, your son, Buck looking dumb, whatever you’ve got.”
The two other men hummed in agreement with their teammates' request. As Eddie fished his phone out of his pocket, he couldn’t help but feel grateful for the distraction. He could talk about his love for his family for hours … he may also have an old picture of Buck during his stint as a bartender in Peru that he knew Buck’s crew would love .
It felt like an entire lifetime had passed before Buck was out of surgery and was finally allowed to have visitors. Eddie and Maddie braced themselves on each other when the doctor first told them the surgery was successful, overcome with relief.
Once they were allowed back to his room, Eddie and Maddie headed the charge. Eddie knew the 118 cared too much about Buck to just be left out in the waiting room, so they followed. Just as they reached his door, Maddie stopped abruptly.
“Wait!,” she said softly, turning towards the group with a smirk on her face. “Eddie… do you still want to surprise Buck?”
“I feel like this is a surprise?” Eddie replied, not quite following what she was getting at.
“I mean like, properly surprise him. It’ll probably make him feel better,” she said with a sisterly tilt of her head.
And that’s all it took for Eddie to readily agree. He’d do anything for Buck in this moment.
“Ok! You guys stay here and wait for my cue,” Maddie directed. “Let's do this.”
Eddie watched as she entered the small hospital room, his ear perked up so he could hear what they were saying.
“Hey baby brother, how you feeling?” Maddie asked.
“Like I got crushed by a firetruck,” Buck shot back, his voice maintaining a slight rasp. It sounded like how it did when he woke up from a deep sleep. God, how Eddie missed this man.
She let out a small chuckle, “Well I do have a surprise for you…”
“Really?” his voice picking up with the excitement in his tone.
“Come on in!” Maddie beckoned. The crew took that as their sign to enter.
As the three of them made their entrance, Eddie could practically hear Buck’s deflation. “Oh,” he said, the smile gone from his voice. “Hey guys.”
“Don’t act so excited to see us, Buckaroo,” Chim said sarcastically.
“Sorry, I just-” Buck started, but cut himself off. “No, I’m glad you guys are here.”
“Well actually… there is one more surprise,” Maddie teased. “Get in here!”
Eddie recognized his cue and stepped through the open door. All eyes focusing on him.
“Maddie who-” Buck said, turning his head until his eyes locked with his husbands.
“ Eddie ” he breathed out. “You’re- You’re here. You weren’t supposed to be back for another week?”
“Surprise,” was all Eddie could muster himself to say. The relief he felt at seeing his husband safe and alive threatened to knock him to his feet as he made his way towards Buck’s bedside.
“You didn’t think I’d let you go through this alone, would you?” he said with a smile that could only be brought on by the twinkle in the blue eyes staring up at him.
Buck intertwined their hands before saying, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Eddie said with a squeeze of their hands.
“Even if I left you to meet the whole team on your own?” he said with a slight wince and a glance around the room before him.
Eddie laughed at that, “They’re actually not that bad. Plus, considering what you’ve been through today, I think I can handle a little small talk.”
“You’ve got yourself a keeper, Buck” Bobby said with a hand to Buck’s good shin.
“I should hope so, I already put a ring on it.”
The crew continued to exchange words, jokes, and well wishes for a few minutes. Eventually, they excused themselves as it was getting late and they needed to get back to their families. Maddie left shortly after them, making sure Eddie and Buck were settled for the night and promising to bring Christopher by in the morning.
Once they were alone, Eddie drew his husband in for a kiss. It was nothing particularly heated, just… reassuring . They held each other close, reminding each other of their presence. Hands braced against one another’s cheeks and necks. The warmth underneath their fingertips finding a way to assuage the nerves that formed pits in their stomachs.
They sat, foreheads pressed against each other for what felt like hours. They were a team, officially back in full force. They’d been through hell tonight, but the smiles adoring their faces now would take all the power in the world to remove.
In each other's arms they felt safe. In Buck’s arms Eddie felt home, for good.